“Garden of the Gods”

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Two Christmases ago I gave my husband a card with a repeating pattern of camping tents on the front. Inside, I confidently announced my Christmas gift to him: a road trip to the national parks of southern Utah. It was on our bucket list! It would be our first road trip since our kids have grown up, leaving us on our own! We could start a new tradition!

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What I neglected to note as I wrote that card, however, was the actual fitness of my trip-planning skills to the requirements of the task. Was I confusing myself with someone else? Oh, THAT’S RIGHT. While this skill-set does exist in my household, it does not belong to me. It is my husband’s.

Hubby’s M.O: Go online and plan the trip.

My M.O.: Read a little, brainstorm (with hubby), go look up more stuff, bounce ideas (off hubby), write things down, float possibilities, write things down in multiple places, lose track, get overwhelmed, make impulsive decisions. Give hubby the impression that the plan is shaky. Does this sound even remotely Christmas present-ish??

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My guy was tremendously patient with me and allowed my slow, uncertain method to still be a kindness to him. I fumbled around just about as described in my M.O. above, with him providing only enough structure for my halting efforts to actually bear fruit. (I’ve mentioned before what a gift my husband is to ME.)

And in this manner it finally came to pass that we indeed took our two-week road trip to “The Mighty Five” national parks of Utah in September of last year. Two heads are better than one, and all that.

But about those parks! Have you been there? Do you live near there? IT’S MAGNIFICENT. The landscape makes you feel tiny but at the same time fills you up and enlarges you (somehow!) with its glorious spaciousness.

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In September I blogged an overview of the trip, including a handful of our photos. Then this last weekend we had some friends over for dinner and to see our pics from the trip (they’ve been asking!). And I realized I needed to share this blanket—a wedding gift and offshoot of our Utah road trip.

En route from northern Illinois to southern Utah, we stayed a night in Colorado (worth its own road trip, of course, but that will need to wait). We arrived at the end of a long day of driving, and our friends in Colorado Springs popped us into their car at dusk and drove us about a mile from their home to a favorite spot of theirs, the Garden of the Gods. It was our breathtaking introduction to the rich reds and vibrant greens we were about to see throughout the next 10 days. So as a very belated wedding gift to them and as a way for me to express our joy with the place and with them, I made a small throw/large lap blanket.

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My aim was to represent the land, the space, the juxtaposition of the brilliant colors that we stood over and under and among at all times. I experimented with some free-style stitching to capture the line and texture of the monolithic stones. And if you look just left and below the cloud, you can see my nod to Pike’s Peak, whose eminence is constantly felt in Colorado Springs.

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GO, friends. Look up The Mighty Five. Look up the US National Park Service. Look up AAA and get some old-school road maps that will rewire your brains. And if you need some trip-planning advice, you know who to call. I will hand my hubby the phone ;).

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“Garden of the Gods” (45″ x 55″)
This blanket has already gone to a good home.

“Happy Winter”

"Happy Winter"

Books have always been a big deal around our house. We spent a lot of time reading when our girls were little and certainly had our favorite books, as most families do. So when the calendar flipped to December, when winter winds shook the fir trees around our house and the snows began to come, a particular book got pulled off the shelf regularly. Titled “Happy Winter,” it depicts a day in the life of two young sisters who awake with a thrill to fresh-fallen snow. Author and illustrator Karen Gundersheimer captures the pleasures of childhood in a wintry climate perfectly: sledding, baking, playing dress-up, reading books, getting ready for bed in a warm house. We fell in love with “Happy Winter” because everything that happened in their fictional household also happened in ours.

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This past month I’ve been absorbed in thinking about moms and little girls and winter, as I worked with customer Elsa’s box of wool sweaters to make a blanket “big enough for my daughters and me to cuddle up under.” They know about wintry climates: they live in Minnesota. Elsa sent a gorgeous assemblage of her own bright sweaters—various reds, pinks, purples, blues and blacks. The sweaters presented LOTS of contrast. So lovely! So warm and welcoming! And yet I felt intimidated. I’m more in my wheelhouse working with lower-contrast colors. How would I bring these together into a cohesive whole?

I challenged myself to put as many of Elsa’s sweaters as possible into this blanket without launching chaos.

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To face this challenge, I did what I so often do when I feel at sea. I sit down with (what else?) books. In this case, I grabbed a well-worn one, “An Eye for Color,” by Olga Gutiérrez de la Roza. (Also mentioned here and here and soon in a forthcoming post.) The photo below, from the book, let me know I could be successful with the mix if I worked to rein the colors in by applying some order.  I plotted a beginning symmetry and then quickly laid out colors to balance each other.

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I focused on two common denominators in this collection. 1. Nearly every sweater is highly saturated with a strong, bold color. 2. Those colors sit in large part between red and blue on the color wheel.

After finalizing the pattern of strips, I needed to figure the sequence for sewing them together. Here’s my sketchbook. I referred to it constantly till the final border was stitched on.

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It worked. I love it. I love the strong red “figure-8” that runs diagonally across the surface. I love the sweet pinks in the corners. I love how the blues and blacks provide a weighty border while the raspberry binding keeps everything light-hearted. And I love love love the four landmark rectangles that center everything.

This blanket has necklines galore, buttons on the front of a V-neck pullover, an Abercrombie label, and three pockets for secret messages or for tissues during a sad movie. I had to swipe the pockets from other sweaters in my stash as Elsa’s didn’t have any. But pockets just seemed right for a mother-daughter blanket.

How did I do with the personal challenge? There are parts of 17 sweaters in this blanket, 13 of them Elsa’s. (The other four were for the pockets and for filling out the red figure-8.) Mission accomplished!

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Elsa, thanks so much for asking me to make this for you and your family. In honor of you and your girls and keeping warm together, here is “NIGHT,” the final chapter from Gundersheimer’s “Happy Winter”:

Happy Winter, evening time —
I like how little star-specks shine
Or blink and sparkle cheerfully —
They almost seem to wink at me.

And now switch on the bedside light
To shoo away the dark of night.
We read until we yawn, and then
With one last flick it’s dark again.

The big black night is soft and spread
Just like the quilt upon my bed.
I’m warm and toasty, very snug,
Then Mama comes for one last hug
And sings a winter lullaby,

“Hush and quiet, close your eyes,
The moon’s a night-light for the sky,

Where sprinkled stars are twinkling high
And far below, the deep drifts lie
‘Til Northwind spins and flurries fly.
A snowy blanket’s tucked in tight
And so are you, and now good night.
A happy winter day is done,
Now close your eyes and dreams will come.”

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“Happy Winter” (68″ x 76″)

This blanket has already gone to a good home.

“The Light Changes Everything”

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Last year one of my dear collectors asked me to make a special blanket for her and her husband, to denote a time of renewal and restoration in their marriage. She said, “No hurry, but whenever you can. And I would love for it to be in cream-colored wool, light, like a breath of fresh air.”

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I had made a personal commitment to reserve the first half of 2016 for sewing inventory for the juried Chicago-area show, Art in the Barn. I was willing to take orders for custom work, but I let people know I wouldn’t be starting on their things for a few months. Although this customer had to sit tight for a bit, I mentally started working on her blanket right away.

What I actually did was to simultaneously make two matching blanket “bases” (the background without appliqués), one for the show and one for my client. I then set aside her base until later.

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What a pleasure! The two blankets took similar form in my head, both with springtime trees to depict new life and new beginnings and most certainly the beauty, stability, and longevity of a tree. (You can see the first one, “Hope,” here.) Today I’m introducing the second one, “The Light Changes Everything”—so named because the blanket gave me a pointed object lesson in the practical truth of that statement!

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There were particulars I wanted to express in this project. I wanted to represent a meeting of two people in this one tree. I wanted there to be both masculine and feminine aspects to it. I wanted to have even the background alluding to the powerful hope of transformation.

You can see them when you look for them: The two main branches, leaning toward each other at points. The brown and pink fabrics mingled in the trunk and branches. The transition of background hues from darker on the left to lighter on the right.

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And then! I searched and sampled, looking for a distinct green for the final scattering of leaves. Many of the greens I tested were too bright, too outspoken. I wanted the trunk and branches, not the leaves, to be the main thing. Ahhh, I finally found it. I quickly cut, laid out, and stitched all the leaves on. The color mix resonated perfectly!—in the daytime. But when evening fell, the leaves nearly disappeared against the darker background wools. I was dismayed that I had not paused for a day, as I often do, to live with the design before stitching things down.

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“WOW, the light changes EVERYTHING,” I said gloomily to myself. And suddenly I thought about what a really wonderful thing it is that light does change everything.

Let’s start with the sunlight itself, as this Southern-Californian-turned-Midwesterner frequently watches winter weather forecasts to find the next upcoming sunny day. That’s for mood management :). And there’s my aforementioned practical need for sunlight in order to see how fabric colors interact with each other. Honestly, do we not see sunlight’s breathtaking effects everywhere: on mother nature, on us, on the beauty around us? We need it for our very lives.

On a deeper level, there’s the impact of letting light into life’s dark places in order to begin healing. I have a friend who grasps an imaginary flashlight and cries, “Shine the light!”—a challenge to us all to undermine the painful hold of darkness over things often too shameful to talk about.

Finally but most aptly, there’s Jesus, the light of the world (John 8:12). This couple, for whom I made the blanket, leaned in to Him to turn around an intractable situation in their marriage.

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That, of course, is when I got the title for this blanket. A solution to my disappearing leaves came soon after. I threaded some moss-green wool yarn onto a large darning needle and embroidered a defining edge on the leaves so they could hold their own, both day and night.

For this special couple, may this blanket and the meaning that accidentally / serendipitously got sewn into it be a regular reminder of the strength and power of the Light. With much love…

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“The Light Changes Everything”
(76″ x 64″)

This blanket has already gone to a good home.

He gave her yellow roses

Yellow Roses

“Significance of yellow roses.” I typed this into my search bar as I worked on this latest blanket.

Yellow Roses

Personally, I lean toward less traditional flowers — the handful of purple wildflowers from the hillside near my college in southern California, the tangle of bright cosmos from my first garden, the graceful tulips I came to love after living several years in Michigan. But I gained a new tenderheartedness toward roses after hearing about Richard and Anne.

Yellow Roses

Yellow Roses

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The meaning of yellow roses (from goldflorist.com):
• friendship
• a love that is familiar
• happiness with the domestic arrangement
• joy and happiness

 

Yellow Roses

Yellow Roses

When Richard and Anne met in college, he was on his way to becoming a dentist, she, a nurse. They married, settled down in Indiana and raised two daughters, now grown with families of their own. This last August, after over 50 years of marriage, Anne died. The daughters, grieving the loss of their mom and seeing their dad’s profound lonesomeness for her, wanted to have a blanket made for Richard from several of Anne’s sweaters. Lori, the oldest daughter, talked with me about her parents.

Yellow Roses

Yellow Roses

“Mom had a heart of gold,” said Lori. “Above all else, she loved being a friend. She liked to write cards to encourage people. She loved to get together with friends for lunch. She loved the Lord and she loved us. She was so sweet! We really miss her.

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“Dad always worked very hard. He also enjoyed being an outdoorsman and hunting when he was younger. But after we were grown up, my parents had more time to travel. Myrtle Beach was a favorite place, and Dad loved to golf there. My parents completely enjoyed being together.”

Yellow Roses

Yellow Roses

“Oh!” said Lori, near the very end of the phone call. “Dad always gave Mom yellow roses! Would you put a yellow rose on the blanket?”

Yellow Roses

Yellow Roses

I look back at the meaning of a yellow rose: friendship, a familiar love, happiness in a domestic arrangement. Those warm, sunny roses are perfect for this pair, on so many levels. I also read that yellow roses can signify spring and new life, causing this blanket, made in April, to be extra timely.

Last week, when the finished blanket was hanging over the railing of my loft/sewing space, the roses caught my husband’s attention. I told him about the significance of the flowers. My guy, tough yet tender, got tears in his eyes as he imagined the difficulty of losing a companion and friend of over 50 years. “You’re gonna make him cry,” he said.

Yellow Roses

For Richard and family, I pray this blanket can be a comfort to you all and bring a sense of nearness to your wife and mom. I was touched by the love in your family and am so glad to have had the chance to make this for you.

(For readers, here are some fun blanket details: The colorful sweaters belonged to Anne–the green, the blue, the mottled blue and the multicolored one. The buttons are from the green sweater, and I included two pockets of the mottled blue. In the end, Lori chose three yellow roses for the three grandsons whom “Mom thought the world of and who felt the same about her.” Finally, the bumpy tan under the roses with its braid pattern was difficult to sew over but I love the contrast it offers. As my husband pointed out, “It looks like brambles behind the roses” — those rough patches in marriage and in life that make the sweet part even sweeter.)

Yellow Roses

“Yellow Roses”  (58″x75″)

This blanket has already gone to a good home.

 

“Fullness of Peonies”

It’s been my delight in recent weeks to create another “legacy blanket” from, as it happens, another beautiful Irish sweater.

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The pieces with the diamonds (above) and the chevron (below) — that’s the Irish one.

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Each time I work on one of these blankets (like hereherehere, and here) I am moved by the complexity, wonder, and organic force of legacy within a family.  I hear about these things when an individual brings a sweater and says, “My dad passed away, but I’d love to have his wool sweater put into a blanket for my mom. Will you do that?”

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Mary, one of six kids in her big, lively family, found my work online while exploring what to do with her late dad’s sweater. She emailed, asking if I could make a blanket for her mom, Barbara. I replied (“Of course!”) and asked, as I always do, if I could briefly interview her by phone about her parents.

This is one of my favorite parts of the process. It’s where ideas begin to germinate.

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Mary not only talked with me, she sent a couple photos of her parents’ den, a long-time favorite hang-out of the entire family. WOW. A picture and its thousand words cannot be beat. I particularly fell in love with a sepia-toned vintage map of Europe above the red couch, hung next to a classic print of a horse and rider.

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The blanket took its shape around what I learned of Mary’s family, her mom, her dad, and that welcoming den.

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Mary’s dad, a college professor, became a US Congressman in the ’60s and moved his family near Washington D.C. He and his wife not only raised their family and served their state and country together, they co-authored books! There’s a lot to admire there.

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Barbara is a capital-G Gardener, with related offshoot activities: she has led garden tours as a docent and helped launch (I believe — my notes grew sketchy here) a neighborhood garden club. I got the feeling she loves to be around both gardens and people.

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Confirming my suspicions, her daughter reported that Barbara adores having a house full of people :)

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And so it came together: the neutrals to match the masculine sensibilities in the den, the flowers to match the warm red furniture, the fullness of peonies to match this mom and her family full of generations, interests, activities, loves,…legacy. To Barbara, Mary, and the family: I hope this blanket represents your family well :)

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“Fullness of Peonies” (55″ x 70″)

This is a custom-order blanket.

“Rainy Day”

I’ve had the sweaters for this blanket matched up for some time, just waiting. Even before they were a blanket, I thought they were comforting together —  like being indoors — cozy, warm, and contented — on a rainy day.

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Just about the time I put the blanket together, my daughters put together a book they had worked on through this semester for my younger daughter’s watercolor class. The assignment: to paint a series of paintings as illustrations. Daughter #2, the painter, asked Daughter #1, the writer, if she would contribute poems to this project. Their collaboration took its final form as this book.*

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They created a painting/poem pair that fits so well with the spirit of a rainy day that I asked the daughters if I could share their work with you.

They said yes :)

Here is “Early Spring,” a painting by Hope Olson, and “If Only,” a poem by Grace Claus.

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Hope's rainy day watercolor

“Early Spring”

(Painting reprinted with permission of Hope Olson)

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If Only

(Reprinted with permission of Grace Claus)

On a day like today,

inspiration is nowhere

to be found. It has stolen

like a fox into the woods

and has curled up beneath

a silent bush, damp but

asleep while the rain slaps

the leaves, weaves between

branches, slips down

trunks, shoots, roots,

and seeps into the soil.

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If only I were a fox

and could leave this stale,

drowsy house, sheltered

from the rain, and let

one immaculate drop

startle my shoulder,

bead against my fur,

and disturb my sleep.

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Proud momma? I s’pose you could say that :)

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I could’ve tied this all together better if I had had a cloudy and dreary day to shoot these pics. How did I miss all those cloudy, dreary days?? Even the turtles at the local park came out to sit in the sun.

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Anyway, to me, the cream-colored squares in the blanket are like two windows, letting in wan but welcome light. Up close, you can see scrabbling vines “outside.”

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The gray wool with the diamond pattern is sprinkled with a handful of clear sequins, looking like little raindrops balancing atop the wool.

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This blanket is very cozy, cushy, and a nice throw size. In person, the colors are absolutely gorgeous together. (It’s difficult to capture that aspect in these photos.)

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“Rainy Day” (58″ x 74″)

This blanket has already gone to a good home.

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On a Day Like Today

(“On a Day Like Today” by Grace Claus; illustrated by Hope Olson)

“Sealed with a Kiss”

Sealed with a Kiss

When I was a little girl, one of my favorite places to visit was the stationery store. The stationer’s was a precursor of today’s big-box office supply store, but with a much narrower — and more charming! — set of offerings.

Sealed with a Kiss

One of the best parts was the near-complete lack of plastic packaging for all the delightful gadgets in the store. That meant if I were careful, I could handle them. Bliss.

Sealed with a Kiss

I hovered over the pencils, pens, notepads, and the stationery. Those papers enchanted me. Printed or embossed, elegant or sweet, they looked fresh and expectant, ready to be filled with a message and mailed to a lucky someone.

Sealed with a Kiss

I still love the physicality of this. Email is immediate and convenient. But a handwritten letter, packaged up in a sealed envelope, brings so much more of the sender along with it. Discovering it in the mailbox is like being caught off-guard by a surprise party. Opening it is like opening a gift. Is this old-fashioned now?

Sealed with a Kiss

Natalie (for whom this blanket was made) is a member of my extended family. And in my family there are several people who maintain this gratifying habit of writing letters — I can count them across three generations.  Natalie is wonderful in many ways. Yet when this blanket was ordered, what did I think of first? Her gentle notes and letters, so representative of her.

Sealed with a Kiss

The order was for a throw of pinks and pale oranges, so that’s where I started. And, as usually happens when I make these blankets, an unforeseen opportunity presented itself — this time, the possibility of a postage stamp :).

Sealed with a Kiss

What could be more fitting?

Sealed with a Kiss

With much love for you, Natalie, and with gratefulness for the way that you are ♥ — here is “Sealed with a Kiss.”

Sealed with a Kiss

“Sealed with a Kiss” (57″ x 76″)

This is a custom-made blanket.

Holiday Open House!

 

You are invited to a

 

HOLIDAY OPEN HOUSE

EXTRAVAGANZA!!

Sunday, Nov. 4, from Noon to 4 p.m. in Arlington Heights, IL  (email greensheepjo [at] gmail [ dot] com for the address)

 

Participating Vendors include: 

Bob’s Wine Bottle Lights

Embelysh Inc.

Marcia’s Cards

M.E. Designs

Mini Massage by Back In Balance

Peace Beads

RL Photography

The Green Sheep

Usborne Books

Willow House  Jewelry by Sara Blaine

Willow House Style For Home 

Zee’s Tees

My friend Kathy, who I met over a Green Sheep blanket, is hosting this wonderful open house in her own home. I’m honored to be a part of it! If you live in the area, please come. Email me at greensheepjo [at] gmail [dot] com to get the street address. There’ll be refreshments and raffles in addition to a wide assortment of gifts. You’ll find great ideas for family, friends, teachers, hostesses, and even you. We’re all working hard to put on a great day for you!

I have not fallen off the earth

It’s been so long since I made a post that I can barely remember how to do it.

I finally caught my breath after our daughter and son-in-law’s May wedding and then the extraordinary quality of summertime itself — so little is routine and mundane! — including having our second daughter home from college for the summer.  It was difficult to keep up on The Green Sheep things, both designing and blogging, but I’m finding my footing again.

I’ve been helped along by some delightful blanket orders, which to me are sort of like an invitation to an amusement park: PURE FUN.  I’ve been working away on those over the past couple of months and am here today to give a sneak peek…

First, for a lake-lover:

And second, for a wedding gift:

Can’t wait until I can do the “reveal” on each one.  In the meantime, I’m off to finish designing a blanket for a friend’s dorm room and after that, baby blankets for my mom-of-two friend who is expecting sweet twin girls in the fall :).

“Nordic Heat”

My parents-in-law are among the best in the world. From Norwegian stock, they are gracious, loving, self-effacing, fun-loving and generally unruffle-able people. I enjoy them a lot. These wools, in part from Scandinavian sweaters, remind me of them — quiet and low-key. Because Norway and its northern neighbors are all such cold places and already have an abundance of blue, I decided to add some warmth — thus, the hot-pink block. When it was completed, this blanket went to live with my in-laws in sunny San Diego.

“Nordic Heat” (Size: 54″ x 62″)

This blanket has already gone to a good home.

“Life is a Gift” (the poppies blanket)


A friend invited me to create a blanket for a breast cancer fundraiser her town’s junior women’s league put on this spring (with proceeds going to the Susan G. Komen Foundation and to the local hospital). As I pondered what to make for it, these colorful poppies against their quiet background kept coming to my mind. Any difficult diagnosis brings some heaviness — that’s the gray-green background, like dark clouds. But it can also bring a change of outlook on life and life’s many gifts, ones we so easily take for granted. And those, of course, are the poppies. A tribute, too, to my sweet mom and my sweet mom-in-law, both of whom have battled breast cancer.

“Life is a Gift” (Size: 55″ x 73″)

This blanket has already gone to a good home.